February 13, 2013 10:27:04 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
The trial of a man from a prominent Columbus family is underway in Lowndes County Circuit Court.
Charlton Aaron Colom, 35, is charged with possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. After a motion hearing Tuesday morning Judge Jim Kitchens moved that Colom be tried as a habitual offender.
Colom is the nephew of Columbus attorney and businessman Wilbur Colom.
He was arrested and charged with the felony possession of cocaine in 1999 in Lowndes County. He was indicted and sentenced to serve five years with the Mississippi Department of Corrections. In 2009, he was convicted on one count felony sale of cocaine in Tippah county and was again given a five-year sentence.
If convicted as a habitual offender, Colom would not be eligible for parole or early release. He faces up to a 10-year prison sentence if convicted.
Testimony began Tuesday afternoon as law enforcement officers testified to the events that lead up to Colom's June 2008 arrest outside a Columbus apartment complex.
Agents with the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department Special Response Team were conducting a search warrant on alleged drug dealers at 1600 21st St. N. As the deputies were securing the perimeter, they heard a gun shot. Larry Swearingen, the commander of the SRT Unit, testified to what he saw and heard.
Swearingen said he and another officer were assigned to secure the east side of the apartment complex. Swearingen testified that seconds after he heard the gun shot, he saw Colom near the vicinity on the east side of the complex. Swearingen said Colom was the only person in sight at the time of the shot. Colom was detained on scene.
A Raven .25 caliber hammer-less semi-automatic handgun was found on the ground, with a round in the chamber.
During questioning, Colom's attorney, William Starks, noted that the back of the apartment complex had six doors that entered into six different apartments. Starks asked Swearingen if it was possible for another person to have fired the weapon and then disappeared into the apartment. Swearingen replied that there were approximately 20 officers on scene and the location was secure.
Retired Lt. John Pevey affirmed Swearingen's account of the incident. Pevey said Colom was the only person located outside the apartment complex immediately after the gun shot.
Pevey testified that when Colom was originally detained, he gave law enforcement officials a false name and birth date. However, he was recognized by another agent on scene and properly identified. As common practice, Colom's name was run through a background check with E-911. His prior conviction was noted and Colom was charged with possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and transported to the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center.
During the course of his interview, Pevey testified that Colom admitted to owning the weapon.
"I asked him, 'I guess you were just as shocked as we were when that gun went off.' He said 'I was. I had the gun in my pocket and when I saw the police I took it out and threw it and the next thing I knew the gun went off.'"
Pevey's testimony provoked an outburst from some of Colom's family members, who were sitting in the gallery.
Pevey testified that because the gun is hammer-less, any kind of action that jars the weapon can cause it to fire. Noting that the Raven had a round in the chamber and smelled of gun powder, Pevey determined the weapon on the ground was the same one that had been fired.
In a previous trial for the same offense, Pevey's testimony was a key factor in a hung jury.
In that trial, Pevey testified that Colom never admitted to having the gun. That testimony contradicted Pevey's own notes from the investigation, which included the interview with Colom where Colom admitted to having to having the weapon. The trial ended in a mistrial with the jury split at 6-6.
In Tuesday's proceedings, Starks questioned Pevey about his previous testimony. Pevey testified that he misspoke and took responsibility for the error.
"I erred by not reading my statement," he said. Pevey also told Starks that during 2007, as then-commander of the Metro Narcotics Unit, he was involved in 1,600 cases. Throughout his 35-year career in law enforcement, Pevey said he has testified in countless cases and interviewed numerous people. Pevey readily admitted that he misspoke during the first trial but was adamant that Colom did tell him he was in possession of a weapon.
During Pevey's testimony, Colom turned to his family members and mouthed, "He's lying."
The trial continues today with Pevey returning to the stand.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.